Streetball Legends

The hoops players at Moore Park may be amateurs, but they are very intense

The PlayersA sinewy man in white sweatpants, white baseball cap, and an oversize white T-shirt sits on a picnic table next to his sullen, black-clad counterpart. The diamond studs in his ears sparkle as he talks on a cell, intermittently yelling at some basketball players. "You got to square up when you shoot. Square up! What do they teach these kids in the schools these days?" he asks no one in particular. When a Sumo wrestler of a guard blocks a shot, sending it ricocheting off the chainlink fence that surrounds the courts, the man in white puts his cell on the table, stands up, and stomps his feet: "Sasquatch! Yo, Sasquatch is in the building!" A look of minor irritation crosses the behemoth's face.

There are two regulation basketball courts at Moore Park in Allapattah. On a busy night, 30 or 40 players might show up looking for some run. Needless to say, many have to wait.

"I don't come here too much really, because I don't know anyone who's going to pick me," says Sean, a seventeen-year-old Goulds resident who usually plays in South Miami-Dade. "I have some cousins up here, and there's good games here, so I play a little bit, but I have to get here early, claim a court so people can see what I can do." Sean is maybe five feet nine inches tall, and husky -- not the first guy who gets a look when teams are chosen. He says he models his play after Miami High and University of Florida alumnus Udonis Haslem, the Miami Heat's six-eight forward who had a spectacular season this past year.

Many of the players at the Moore Park courts are a testament to the rubric that appearances can be deceiving. Of course, there's no shortage of zero-percent-body-fat dudes standing around waiting to get picked. Any reasonable person selecting a team would choose the lean leapers, the guys who look like they were conceived in test-tubes with spliced-in greyhound DNA. But the teams that are chosen by those who know better, by the Moore Park regulars, feature all manner of players, from Sasquatch to guys you'd think were too small and maybe a little too old to even be on the same court as the youngsters.

Streetball combines the acrobatics and lung capacity of regulation play and subtracts fundamentals such as teamwork and rules. Individuals stand out. In streetball the tactics are fluid, improvised, based on the players' specific strengths. Though the positions are not as sharply defined in pick-up ball as they are in an organized game, the two most important categories of player remain: bigs and smalls. Bigs get under the basket and muscle their way into point-blank shots or, if possible, dunks (a streetball rarity). Smaller players, the guards, slip-slide around the court, trying to escape their defender long enough to get open, get the ball, and get a shot.

The skinny guy in white sweats is 41-year-old Richard "Choo-choo" Perry, who at five-six does both. He skitters around the court like a water bug, scooting ahead of his man for open jump shots, or slicing into the post for a layup. Defenders who play him too close get burned when he spins around them and darts away. Players who back off, hoping to intercept him, wind up leaving him open for the J. He began building his skills on these courts long ago, playing through the long, hot hours of Miami's summer days.

Now he is by far the shortest player on the court, but he's more than used to that -- he was the shortest player when he started coming here at age ten, almost 30 years ago. These days Choo-choo is a veteran of many battles on the concrete and something of a local streetball legend.

The ParkThe mostly black and Latin men who run the courts at this playground do so inside a bubble of light. Headlights streak by on NW 36th Street and windows glow in some of the nearby storefronts and small stucco homes, but the courts form their own luminous arena whose boundaries are sharply defined by the blackness of the soccer field and park behind the courts, and the sounds of traffic whooshing by on the Airport Expressway and I-95.

In gritty Allapattah, the cleanest sight is usually the roll-out racks of shiny new rims on sidewalk displays along NW 36th. But the Moore Park basketball and tennis courts are spotless and in excellent condition, a stark contrast to the unused, garbage-strewn courts at nearby Miami Jackson Senior High School.

During the day, the courts are usually empty, except for a few stray games of one-on-one; in the summer, groups of schoolboys hone their skills. When the sun goes down, though, night ballers flock to the light. The parking lot is filled with every conceivable type of ride, from an enormous brown Lincoln with a rusted-out trunk to a gleaming new Benz, rims still spinning.

High NoonDamon and Charles are fighting over the ball, each holding it with two hands, whirling around in what looks more like a parody of ballroom dancing than a game of one-on-one. Damon is eleven and Charles is twelve, and they are skipping school.

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